As a hobbyist (and occasional professional) drone pilot, I have often wondered what Hollywood filmmakers are flying with. This information is often kept under wraps, as many pilots are not allowed to discuss what films they work on or what equipment they use. We found one drone operator at AUVSI 2019 that was more than willing to share. Some of the cameras they use are surprising, and the drones that lift those cameras are some of the biggest in the business.
The variety of cameras that Hollywood is putting in the air is not surprising. While my Mavic 2 Pro is awesome, it isn’t on the short list of go-to cameras used in Hollywood. Every director has their favorite, and some of them even shoot on film. That’s right, film. The stuff that is spooled up on a reel. Whether digital or film, these cameras are not small and neither are the drones that lift them. You might suspect that DJI dominates on film sets like they do in so many other drone markets. For sure, drones like the Inspire 2 have an important role, but even the massive Matrice 600 has a maximum payload of about 5.5 kg (12 pounds). I met with the drone maker and operator XM2 Cine to learn more about the cameras used in the movies and the massive drones they build to carry them.
XM2 isn’t satisfied just making drones or just using drones to film – they do both. The Australia-based company builds and customizes the drones they need in order to be sure they have the best drone for the job. Their biggest drone, the Sierra has a maximum payload of 30 kg (65 lbs). With that kind of lifting power, the Sierra can carry more than 5 times the weight of the Matrice 600. You can buy one for your self, but it will set you back 100,000 Aussi bucks (about $70,000).
This beast of a drone carries 8 huge lithium batteries and weighs 150 pounds.
Despite being based in Australia, XM2 is no stranger to Hollywood. The list of movies and series that they have worked on includes Pirates of the Caribbean, Aquaman, and the upcoming Star Wars, Episode 9. They are specialists not only in traditional video capture but also in aerial video “plates” that are intended as backdrops for complex visual effects (VXF).
A small sampling of the projects that XM2 has worked on
When it comes to cameras in the air, directors are not willing to compromise. It should be no surprise that they often want to use the same cameras that they use on the ground. Here is a short list of just some of the cameras that XM2 has used on various movie sets.
- Arri 235 – If there were a film camera designed for a drone, it might be the Arri 235. At under 4 kg, the Arri 235 is about as compact as you can get for a 35 mm film camera.
- RED Monstro 8K – Forget 4K, the RED Monstro 8K can record 8192 x 4320 video at 60 frames per second on a 46 mm diagonal sensor. The compact body doesn’t come cheap, it costs about $80,000 for the camera body.
- Nokia Ozo 360° VR Camera – XM2 is no stranger to virtual reality. The latest Ozo camera sports 8 2K x 2K cameras ensuring that no matter where you look you have high definition. The XM2 Sierra can carry one on the top and one on the bottom of the drone.
- Arri Alexa 65 – The XM2 Sierra is the first drone in the world designed to carry the ultimate 6K digital video camera. With a 65 mm sensor, the Alexa 65 is the ultimate videography machine.
- Logmar Magellan 65 mm Film Camera – If you want big film in the air then the XM2 Sierra is up to the task. XM2 COO Aidan Kelly tells us that the Sierra has also carried 75 mm film cameras.
- XM2 Stingray – XM2 has designed custom payloads including the XM2 Stingray, an array of three Alexa Mini cameras.
See the table below for a more complete list of cameras that XM2 drones support.
The cameras and imaging systems that XM2 works with and the drones that carry them
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